May 2, 2019 / 8:22 AM / in 22 days

UPDATE 1-ABB's acting CEO targets faster growth, long-term change

(Adds details, background)

By John Revill

ZURICH, May 2 (Reuters) - ABB expects to improve revenue growth and its operating profit margin this year despite difficult economic conditions hitting Europe, Chairman and interim Chief Executive Peter Voser told the Swiss engineering company’s annual general meeting.

Voser, who took over as acting CEO after Ulrich Spiesshofer abruptly left the company last month, said the search for a successor was well under way, with the company considering internal and external candidates.

“Despite the difficult economic conditions, particularly in Europe, we expect improvements in revenue growth and margins in 2019, and want to achieve a target corridor of 13 to 16 percent in the medium term,” Voser said in remarks prepared for the meeting on Thursday.

Voser, a former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell as well as a former chief financial officer at ABB, replaced Spiesshofer, who had led ABB since 2013.

Spiesshofer had come under heavy shareholder pressure to sell off weaker parts of the business and improve performance, while the company’s share price lost around 6 percent during his tenure.

Voser said changing the culture at the industrial robot and drive maker would take some time.

“We cannot and should not make the mistake of assuming that this can be achieved within three or six months. Instead we must be thinking of the next three to six years,” Voser said.

“And the main drivers of that change need to remain on board for at least that long. This long-term approach is exactly what prompted us to make the change at the top of the company that we announced two weeks ago.”

Voser said ABB’s next CEO did not have to come from the engineering sector, with leadership experience more important. (Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields)

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